Ram Rath Yatra
Ram Rath Yatra was a political-religious march that lasted from
September to October 1990. It was organised by the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) and its Hindu-nationalist affiliates, and led by the
then-BJP-president L. K. Advani. The purpose of the yatra was to
support the agitation of the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its Sangh
Parivar affiliates to erect a temple to the
Rama on the
site of the Babri Masjid.
The Masjid, or mosque, had been built in the city of Ayodhya,
considered holy by Hindus, following the Mughal conquest of the region
in 1528. According to hearsay, it was built over a temple dedicated to
Rama, and stood on the site of his birth. In the 1980s, the Vishwa
Hindu Parishad and other
Sangh Parivar affiliates began an agitation
to build a temple to
Rama at the site, with the Bharatiya Janata Party
lending political support to the movement. In 1990, the government of
India led by
V. P. Singh
V. P. Singh decided to implement some of the
recommendations of the Mandal commission, and announced that
twenty-seven percent of government jobs would be reserved for people
from lower-caste backgrounds. This announcement threatened the
electoral constituency of the BJP, which decided to use the Ayodhya
dispute to unite the
Hindu vote by mobilizing anti-Muslim
In order to further this movement, the BJP announced a rath yatra, or
"chariot journey" across the country that would end in Ayodhya. The
procession was led by L. K. Advani, and involved thousands of kar
sevaks, or volunteers, from the Sangh Parivar. The yatra began in
Somnath on 25 September 1990, and passed through hundreds of villages
and cities. It traveled 300 kilometers a day, and Advani often
addressed six public rallies in a single day. The yatra caused a huge
outpouring of both religious and militant sentiments among Hindus, and
became one of India's biggest mass movements.
The yatra also triggered religious violence in its wake, with riots in
cities across North India. As a result, Advani was arrested by the
Bihar as the yatra passed through that state, and
150,000 supporters were also arrested by the government of Uttar
Pradesh. Tens of thousands of activists nonetheless reached Ayodhya
and attempted to storm the mosque, resulting in a pitched battle with
security forces which left 20 dead. These events caused further
Hindu-Muslim riots to break out across the country, in which hundreds
were killed. Muslims were often the victims of these riots,
particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Following these riots, the
BJP withdrew its support to the central government, leading to early
parliamentary elections. The BJP made significant gains in these
elections, both at the national and the state level, on the back of
the religious polarization that followed the yatra.
1 Background and motivation
2 Rath Yatra
2.1 Etymology and philosophy
2.2 Announcement and route
2.3 Initial stages
2.4 Advani's arrest
2.5 Communal riots
3.1 BJP electoral success
3.2 Demolition of the Babri Masjid
Background and motivation
The city of
Ayodhya is a holy site for Hindus, who know it as the
birthplace of the god-king Rama. Following the Mughal conquest of
the region in 1528, a mosque was built in
Ayodhya by the Mughal
general Mir Baqi, who named it the
Babri Masjid after the Mughal
emperor Babur. According to hearsay, Baqi destroyed a pre-existing
Rama at the site. Limited historical evidence exists to
support this theory, and the existence of the temple itself is a
matter of controversy. Numerous historians have stated that there
is limited evidence to support the notion that
Rama was born at the
precise location of the Babri Masjid, as well as that a temple to Rama
once stood at the site. Additionally, the location of Ayodhya
itself is a matter of dispute, since the city has shifted slightly
over the millennia.
For several centuries, the site was used for religious purposes by
both Hindus and Muslims. In 1822, the claim was made for the first
time that the mosque stood on the site of Rama's birth, or the Ram
Janmabhoomi. Citing this claim, the
Nirmohi Akhara laid
claim to the mosque, resulting in inter-communal violence in the
period 1853–55. In 1949, an idol of
Rama was surreptitiously
placed inside the mosque, and an attempt was made to convince
devotees that it had appeared miraculously. An official
investigation concluded that the mosque had been desecrated and the
idol placed there by three men, together with a large band of
supporters. This caused an uproar among Muslim people who used the
mosque, and the gates to the mosque were locked on the orders of the
state government. However, in the 1980s a movement began advocating
demolishing the mosque and building a temple there dedicated to
Rama. Following its poor performance in the 1984 parliamentary
Bharatiya Janata Party
Bharatiya Janata Party shifted toward a policy of more
Hindu nationalism. It lent its support to the agitation
for a temple at Ayodhya. In 1986, the district magistrate of Ayodhya
ordered that the gates be opened once more, and Hindus be allowed
access to the shrine. On the strength of this agitation, the BJP
Lok Sabha seats in 1989, a tally which made its support crucial
to the National Front government.
In August 1990, then-Prime Minister V. P. Singh, acting on the
recommendations of the Mandal Commission, decided to introduce a
policy of reserving twenty-seven per cent of state level government
posts for people from lower castes. The new policy was partially an
attempt to trim the electoral support of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The core constituency of the BJP were people from upper castes,
who had until then held a monopoly over government jobs. The new
policy thus fed resentment among the upper-castes, and raised
inter-caste tensions in some parts of the country. Mobilizing
Hindus around the
Ayodhya dispute was seen by the BJP as a way to
unite its electorate, by creating an issue around which all Hindus
could be united against Muslims. This effort tied in well with the
philosophy of the Sangh Parivar, which professed "cultural
nationalism", and believed in the unity of the highly fragmented Hindu
population. However, since the founding of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh in 1925 its support, and that of its political wing the Jana
Sangh and the BJP, had been restricted to people of upper castes; with
Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, the BJP hoped to spread its influence
outside this demographic.
L. K. Advani, then-President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who led
the Ram Rath Yatra.
Etymology and philosophy
The ultimate aim of the yatra was to support the agitation of the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its
Sangh Parivar affiliates to erect a
temple to the
Rama on the site of the Babri Masjid. 
Yatra is a
Sanskrit word that may be translated as "journey,"
"procession," or "pilgrimage." The idea of pilgrimage is a significant
Hindu traditions. In recent decades, the term has also been
used to describe displays of strength by
Hindu nationalist groups, and
the idea of the pilgrimage itself has often been harnessed by Hindu
nationalists to mobilize support. The city of Ayodhya, in
particular, is a place of pilgrimage in the
Hindu tradition, because
it is seen as a site where a devotee may obtain eternal salvation, a
belief used to inspire support for the Ram Rath Yatra. Hindu
pilgrimages have traditionally been spaces where caste and gender
barriers have been broken to a limited extent, thus making them useful
for the BJP, which sought to unite its electorate, which was divided
by caste-based discrimination. Furthermore, pilgrimages or processions
frequently involve an assertion of dominance over a physical space,
which was also relevant to the
Ayodhya dispute. Rath Yatra refers
to a procession involving a rath, or chariot, a frequent occurrence at
Announcement and route
Advani, then the president of the BJP, announced the yatra on 12
September 1990. The rath yatra began on 25 September 1990, seeking
to capitalize on the massive protests across north India against the
reservation bill. The yatra was supposed to be 10,000 kilometres long,
and was planned with the intention of converging on
forcing the government to hand over the site to the Hindutva forces
for the construction of a temple. The yatra began at the
city of Somnath, and was planned to go through the states of Gujarat,
Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar, before
reaching the city of
Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Both
Ayodhya had political significance to the
Hindu nationalist movement,
because of their association with the legacy of Muslim invaders and
rulers. Ayodhya, in particular, was seen as the symbol of Hindu
humiliation at the hands of Muslim rulers. Additionally, the BJP
wished to draw a parallel between its effort to build a temple in
Ayodhya, and the reconstruction of the
Somnath temple, undertaken by
the INC led government of India in the 1950s.
The imagery of the procession was designed to represent religious
themes. The "chariot" was escorted by activists dressed as
mythological deities, and the people marching with the chariot sang
songs and raised slogans that had religious themes. A few people
marched with the rath the entire way, but a much larger number
attended rallies at each stop. The rath itself was an
Toyota redesigned to be a chariot.
Ramachandra Guha stated that the imagery of the yatra was
"religious, allusive, militant, masculine, and anti-Muslim."
The yatra itself was preceded by an intense propaganda campaign
carried out by volunteers of the
Bajrang Dal and the VHP. Along the
entire route of the yatra they distributed pamphlets and posters
describing the proposed temple, and vilifying Muslims. VHP leaders
made speeches in which they stated that Hindus of past years had shown
"impotence" in allowing their holy sites to be taken over by Muslims,
and asked them to be more aggressive at the present opportunity.
The yatra was flagged off in
Somnath with scenes of "frenzied
religious sentiments and militant national fervour." Supporters
presented Advani with several gifts, including Saffrom flags, a sword,
and a bow-and-arrow. Supporters chanted religious hymns as well as
The yatra began as one of the most significant mass movements in
Indian history. Advani covered an average of 300 kilometers a day, and
Advani typically addressed six rallies in a day. The rath passed
through about 600 villages in Gujarat, and 50 rallies were held. In
the village of Jetpur,
Hindu nationalist activists donated a jar full
of their own blood to Advani as a symbol of their faith. After
Gujarat the caravan went to Maharashtra, where activist fervor was
even stronger because of the support of the Shiv Sena, a radical Hindu
nationalist party. The yatra then passed through
Andhra Pradesh), in an attempt to mobilize supporters in an area where
the BJP had little electoral strength, followed by
Madhya Pradesh and
Rajasthan. The level of popular mobilization in each state was higher
than the press had previously expected, and the yatra began to receive
more national news coverage. Slogans coined by the followers included
"Garv se kaho, ham
Hindu hein!" ("Say with pride that we are
Hindus!") An editorial in a national newspaper stated:
At every village all along its route . . . crowds ranging from
hundreds to thousands turned out to see him. In the towns they
clambered on to roofs to catch a glimpse of the bespectacled man on
Advani's speeches during the yatra addressed
Hindu nationalist themes.
He portrayed the
Ayodhya dispute as a fight between
Rama and the
Mughal emperor Babur, and stated that no
Hindu could live in peace
until a temple had been built on the site of the Babri Masjid.
Militant sentiments were visible throughout the rally, as Advani was
presented with bows and arrows, tridents, maces, daggers, and
swords. BJP leader
Pramod Mahajan stated that "'If we are to use
all the weapons presented to us, we can liberate the Ramjanmabhumi in
a day," while
Shiv Sena leader
Bal Thackeray "threatened to wipe
out the 'unholy green' (the color associated with Islam), if the
temple construction was obstructed".
The yatra caused growing unrest in its wake, resulting in the
government being forced to take action against it. Throughout the
yatra, the organizers chose multiple times to defy administrative
measures to minimize the impact of the yatra. Sumanta Banerjee
stated that the people arrested along the course of the rath yatra had
all committed to violating the law. Advani paused the yatra in
Delhi for several days, daring the central government to arrest him,
which it did not. However, on 23 October the Indian Prime Minister
V. P. Singh
V. P. Singh authorized Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Chief Minister of Bihar,
to arrest Advani as the procession crossed the border with the state
of Uttar Pradesh. Advani was placed in preventive custody.
Following his imprisonment, Advani was held in the Masanjore Guest
House, a luxury government accommodation. After his release, he stated
that through the success of the rally, the power of the people had
defeated the power of the state.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader
Ashok Singhal was also arrested, but managed to escape from police
custody within a day. Other activists arrested were often improperly
detained, or allowed to escape.
Despite Advani's arrest, the kar sevaks or activists accompanying the
yatra continued on towards Ayodhya. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Chief
minister of Uttar Pradesh, ordered the arrest of all activists bound
to Ayodhya, and 150,000 individuals were jailed. However, a large
number of activists succeeded in reaching Ayodhya. Guha estimates this
number at 75,000, while
Christophe Jaffrelot states that it was
40,000. The town also held 20,000 security personnel, brought there
by the state government. On 30 October a large number of activists
pushed past the cordon of security officers, and moved towards the
Babri Masjid. Although they were intercepted by more security forces,
they succeeded in avoiding these, and reached the mosque. There,
one volunteer placed a saffron flag on top of the mosque, while other
activists attempted to tear the building down using tools like axes
and hammers. The security personnel responded by initially using tear
gas to expel the kar sevaks, and later using actual ammunition. The
kar sevaks were pushed away from the mosque, but a pitched battle with
security followed, which lasted three days, and led to the death of 20
Through the course of the yatra, the participants were frequently
aided by the governments of the states they passed through. The
procession was often given a police escort, and
Uttar Pradesh police
force members are thought to have helped some activists gain access to
the mosque, which the police were supposed to be protecting.
The yatra brought out militant sentiments in the cadre of the BJP,
VHP, and Bajrang Dal, and there were several violent clashes along its
route. These clashes intensified many-fold after Advani's arrest on 23
October. Riots targeting Muslims occurred in Jaipur, Jodhpur,
Ahmedabad, Baroda, Hyderabad, and a few other places. Several hundred
people died in these riots, including 130 people in
Jaipur between 23
October and 31 October.
K. M. Panikkar estimates that 166 communal
riots occurred in total between 1 September and 20 November, in which
564 people were killed. Many of these riots occurred in areas that
were not on the route of the yatra, but where religious hatred had
nonetheless been triggered by the yatra.
The bodies of the kar sevaks killed in the fight with security forces
on 30 October were cremated, and their ashes carried around the
country by the VHP. Hindus all over were asked to avenge the deaths of
the activists, who were described as martyrs. Religious riots
followed across the country, particularly in the state of Uttar
Pradesh, where mobs of Hindus attacked neighborhoods dominated by
Muslisms, as well as individuals visibly identifiable as Muslim.
BJP electoral success
The BJP made the
Ayodhya agitation a large part of its campaign in the
1991 parliamentary elections, often with the support of the VHP.
 Its intense campaign drew it a lot of support, particularly
campaign funding. The
Ram Janmabhoomi issue allowed the BJP to gain
significant support in rural areas, whereas it had previously been
restricted to support from the urban middle class. The BJP was
helped by the decision of some Muslim leaders to issue a call to
Republic Day events on 26 January 1991.
Following the Rath Yatra and the associated protests, the BJP withdrew
its support to the National Front central government led by V. P.
Singh, leading to its collapse. It also prompted the Mulayam Singh
Uttar Pradesh state government, in its eagerness to
consolidate the Muslim vote bank, to use excessive police force
against BJP workers and kar-sevaks, resulting in the alienation of
Hindu communities from Singh's
Samajwadi party in India's most
populous state. This BJP strategy paid rich dividends in the
May–June 1991 parliamentary elections. Relative to the 1989 general
election, the BJP doubled its percentage of votes nationwide and made
gains in states like Karnataka and
Andhra Pradesh in the South and
Assam in the Northeast. It emerged as the second largest party in the
Lok Sabha, after the Indian National Congress (INC). It captured a
majority of the
Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, where it also won a
majority in the state legislative assembly and formed the
government. Muslim votes were divided between the INC and the
Janata Dal, further helping the BJP. It also was able to win a
majority of seats in the state legislatures of Rajasthan, Madhya
Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, and made gains in several other
Demolition of the Babri Masjid
Main article: Demolition of the Babri Masjid
Carrying forward their campaign to build a temple at the site, the
VHP, the BJP, and their affiliates organised a rally outside the
mosque on 6 December 1992, involving 150,000 VHP and BJP volunteers.
Several BJP leaders, including Advani,
Murli Manohar Joshi
Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma
Bharti, spoke at the rally. The crowd gradually grew more restive
during the speeches, and began to shout slogans of a militant nature.
Although a police cordon had been placed around the mosque in
preparation for an attack, a young man slipped past the cordon around
noon and climbed the mosque itself, waving a saffron flag. The mob
took this as a signal to attack and stormed the mosque, bearing
hammers and axes. The policemen were outnumbered and unprepared, and
fled the scene. The crowd set upon the mosque unopposed, and leveled
it within a few hours.
Hindu mobs also demolished a number of other
mosques in Ayodhya. The demolition triggered massive Hindu-Muslim
violence across the country, in which more than 2000 people, the
majority of them Muslim, were killed.
The central government ordered an inquiry into the demolition. The
report of the inquiry, written by retired judge Manmohan Singh
Liberhan, indicted 68 people for the demolition, including a number of
BJP leaders. The people named in the report included Advani, Vajpayee,
Joshi, and Bharathi, as well as then-Uttar Pradesh-chief minister
Kalyan Singh. The report stated that Singh had appointed officers to
the area who were less likely to act to prevent the demolition. It
stated that the leaders of the BJP could have prevented the demolition
if they had chosen to do so, and quoted a security official as saying
that provocative speeches had been made at the rally. 
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